Kris Bryant's Injury Is the Latest Thing to Go Wrong for the Cubs
The Chicago Cubs' dynasty-in-the-making hasn't exactly materialized the way everyone thought it would. The prohibitive favorites to win it all again in 2017, last year's World Series champs are still loaded with young talent and quality pitching. But so far this season, things have not gone smoothly.
After losing to the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, the Cubs are 39-39, struggling to keep their heads above the breakeven line. They are trailing the Milwaukee Brewers by a game in the National League Central, and they are 6.5 games back of the second NL wild card spot.
A number of players have taken steps backwards in 2017, while a host of others (Kyle Hendricks and Ben Zobrist) have landed on the disabled list. In last night's loss to Washington, Kris Bryant, the reigning NL MVP who is in the midst of another big-time season, injured himself on a routine pop fly.
Kris Bryant catches Matt Wieters' pop fly, but injures his foot on the play and is forced to exit the game pic.twitter.com/K3lhzM59l1
— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) June 29, 2017
Bryant is listed as day-to-day with a mild right ankle sprain, and according to ESPN, it's unclear whether Bryant will have to go on the 10-day disabled list because of the fluky injury. Given the first-half struggles of a team everyone thought was going to sleepwalk their way to a second straight division title, Chicago can not afford to lose their star third baseman.
He is one of the few Cubs' stars who has picked up right where he left off last season. His offensive output is virtually right in line with what he did in 2016.
Despite a lower batting average, Bryant has gotten on base more this season thanks to a spike in his walk rate, and he's also cut down on his strikeouts a bit. The rest of his numbers are pretty consistent, with his WAR totals brought down by his defensive metrics, which are always a bit unreliable anyway.
Last year, only the Colorado Rockies scored more runs in the National League than the Cubs, and Chicago led the NL in fWAR among its position players. This year, Chicago is 8th among 15 NL teams in runs scored and 6th in total fWAR. Running down the numbers of some of the everyday eight, it's easy to see why.
|Name||2016 wOBA||2016 wRC+||2017 wOBA||2017 wRC+|
Anthony Rizzo is still having an excellent season, but it is a notch below what he did last year. Addison Russell has really struggled at the plate, and he is also dealing with a domestic violence investigation by MLB. Zobrist has seen a huge drop in his production, as has Willson Contreras.
The Cubs were hoping to get a major contribution from Kyle Schwarber this year, but he was recently demoted to Triple-A after his struggles at the plate became too much for the team to bear any longer. And the team has missed the presence of free-agent loss Dexter Fowler, who had a 4.7 WAR last season, third-best on the team. His replacement, Albert Almora Jr., has a WAR of 0.3 so far this year, with a weighted runs created (wRC+) of just 98.
One of the few bright spots has been the addition of rookie Ian Happ, who has provided some much-needed power and stability in the lineup. He has played all over the field and, in just 41 games and 160 plate appearances, has hit 10 home runs with a slash line of .252/.323/.538. But it hasn't been enough to offset the lack of production from some of the other everyday players who have underachieved so far in 2017.
With so many of their bats struggling, the Cubs cannot afford to lose Bryant for any length of time. There are only three third basemen in baseball who have a better WAR than Bryant at this point, the Nationals' Anthony Rendon (3.3), the Los Angeles Dodgers' Justin Turner (3.3) and the Cleveland Indians' Jose Ramirez (2.9).
If Bryant is out for an extended stretch, they would likely move Baez to third base or play Tommy La Stella there. But it's clear that, after so many things went right for Chicago last year, the struggle is real in 2017, and they'll have a bigger mountain to climb if their star MVP is forced to the shelf.